"The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things,
and the God of peace will be with you."
-Philippians 4:9

Monday, December 17, 2012

Ponderings

There are so many things I have on my heart that are begging to be written. Our family has been so blessed in the last several weeks.  Our joy in our faith is being renewed as we celebrate Hanukkah, the miracles of God, and the Advent of Emmanuel among us.

In contrast to seeing the Light of the World grow brighter with every candle we light, we have been witness with the rest of our nation as darkness has sought to extinguish the light. Families are in mourning. A horrific act of violence against childhood innocence has sent shockwaves throughout communities around the world. Many are in fear that this darkness has the power to overcome us.  Fingers are being pointed at everything from guns to government conspiracy to mental illness. Action is being desperately called for to give us some sense of security; some feeling - however deceptive - that legislation, societal awareness, *something* can effectively assure that nothing like this will ever happen again.

But the truth is that it can. The sad reality is that it probably will. It is the ugliness of human history. Light has always contended with Darkness. Sometimes the Darkness finds an individual, sometimes a group, uses a lie, or a promise, or guilt, or jealousy, or pride, or any number of things that can motivate the human heart...and it strikes a blow against the Light. And it is terrible to behold. Yet the light refuses to be extinguished. Hope lives. Good flickers on. It may be a very small ember struggling alone, but eventually the flame blooms again and the Darkness must retreat. It has been beaten, after all.

We must be cautious to live in Truth during this time when Darkness and fear seek to propel us headlong into false hopes and assurances. Our Hope exists in the finished work of Jesus Christ. All else is illusion.

Two quotes have been particularly meaningful as I have processed current events in the context of Truth and within the timeline of our Hanukkah and Advent celebrations. My hope is that as I share them, you may ponder them and find the ember of hope kindled in your heart and the cold grip of fear powerless in your life.

"There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root."   
 -Henry David Thoreau

"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."
-Ephesians 6:12

May we be wise enough to strike at the root of evil and strong enough to endure the scrapes from its branches.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Advent: n. onset, beginning, commencement, start

Sometimes I think the contradictions and paradoxes within us make finding a balance impossible. And yet balance is what I desire. Balance in our approach to homeschooling. Balance in responsibility and utterly abandoned fun. Balance between self-sacrifice and self-respect. Balance between work and home. Balance between family time and alone time. Balance between social interaction and solitude. Balance between introspection and spontaneity. 

Perhaps the biggest personal struggle for balance I have fought of late has been that between the desire to instruct my children in faith, give them meaningful traditions, and yet not bind them in chains of religious obligation. I feel the responsibility so very deeply to teach them the freedom in Christ, the deep love of the Father, the redemption that was paid for, and, yes, the willing and grateful submissive response that should evoke in us. But I am loathe to instill in them any obligatory service, any guilt or manipulation-driven duty, any empty religiosity. It is a grave danger and causes me to walk a tightrope. Especially in the season of holy days. I want to give them a foundation - to give myself meaningful celebrations and reminders of the God I choose to worship - but it is requiring a careful evaluation of what I have done, why I have done it, and if it is worthy of continuance. 

This struggle has not been so great in recent years because, frankly, financial and spatial resources to make celebrations have been limited. This year, however, there is a new home. Room for a Christmas tree. Finances, albeit limited ones, to purchase special gifts or ritual components. But which are worthy? What do I want my kids to take away from this? What carries meaning for us? It has been a process.

 God has brought a dear friend into my life that has been a joy to examine this with. Interestingly, she does not share our Christian beliefs...but our conversations about our respective faiths, their traditions, the pitfalls of their organizations, the things we hope to pass on to our kids...these conversations have been such a blessing to me. It has been an eye-opener to me, someone who always hung out with other Christians, to have to answer her questions. Why do I believe certain things? What is meaningful to me? All too often I have just done whatever was accepted Christian practice in my circle of Christian friends. OF COURSE we do this activity...OF COURSE we celebrate in this manner...but why? Because it's always been done that way? This year I have had the joy of discussing with my husband what is of import to us. And deciding how to pass those things on to our kids. Together. In the context of our home and life in our community. It is a humble beginning, but I believe a blessed one. 

We have chosen to put up a Christmas tree this year. Partly because our kids requested one and partly because the few decorations that survived the massive downsizing form a sort of family history. They are things from my childhood, my husband's childhood, decorations made by our children's little hands; it is a testament to the redemption and rebuilding that we have undergone which was only possible by the healing and forgiveness made available in Christ. We have also chosen to introduce the Advent wreath. We aren't following a "set" liturgy in this; we are not doing it on Sundays. Our weekends are Tuesday and Wednesday, so we began the advent wreath with the candle of hope tonight. We had a short discussion of the prophecies of the Messiah and the hope of the captive Israelites in the Savior that would come. 

We are beginning to lay a foundation for our kids. A reminder to ourselves. It is a simple tradition that we begin. I hope that we can find the balance in it. That we can pass on the mystery of a loving God and His redemption without binding our kids in chains of tradition and obligation that lose their meaning. 

With the candle of hope that we light tonight, my prayer is that Emmanuel, God with us, will truly come to our home. That the hope for faith without religion, redemption without guilty obligation, love without expectation will be realized as we learn to live better in the reality of Emmanuel.